How to (finally) remember your speech

Updated to Business on December 19, 2022.

For some speakers, memorizing a speech and delivering it word for word, exactly as planned, is the highest form of delivery.

Frankly, I find that type of delivery is demeaning to the audience, lazy and, at best, boring.

If a speaker is reading from their notes it better be the most brilliant prose I’ve ever heard or get off the stage.

Audiences came to hear from you – what you believe, how you deal with some of the same problems they have, and they want to experience your personality.

Sure, you want to deliver your anchor phases perfectly, or set up a story to make it more memorable. But, please leave memorizing a speech to politicians and Toastmasters.

Instead, let’s look at how to remember the main points and flow of your speech.

From brainstorm to bullets

When you use my speech template, you start with a list of brainstormed stories, quotes, lessons, examples, exercises and key phrases you could deliver.

Next you move what looks important and relevant into the template.

From there you craft that new list into bullets and sub-bullets.

So far, so good. You have the meat of the content: opening, problem, my story, 3 points, etc.

Next, you need to get it down to workable points.

From bullets to key points

Going through my content, pounding it into shape and narrowing the list to what will be delivered gets my speech in shape, but also reminds me of the content. As I’m working on the content I’m going through stories in my head, practicing key points, and working out the delivery of a lesson.

But, I don’t want or need all that detail when I’m on stage. I want to be prepared, I just don’t want to be married to my notes and coming off as stiff and rehearsed.

My next step is to shorten all the bullets to key points and drop the sub-bullets.

So, instead of writing:

  • Plan like a pilot:
    • Antarctica story
    • Statistics on planning
    • Mention any type of recording works
    • Example of client success

I write:

  • Plan like a pilot

Will I sometimes forget a sub-point? Yes! But, I come off as relaxed, in the moment – present.

From key points to anchors

My final step is to anchor key points so I don’t get lost.

In a 60 minute speech I might have 10 key points I need to deliver. Those are written on a 4 X 6 index card I take on stage, place on the podium or floor. I might only glance at the card each time I give the audience an exercise – 3 or 4 times in a speech.

Each one has sub-points but those I’m going to practice, not add to my stage notes.

Nobody’s perfect

Every time I speak I forget some points.

Unless it’s a big one, I’d rather be relaxed, spontaneous and enjoying the audience, rather than sweating over some small point they’re going to forget anyway.

Nobody will miss what isn’t there, so do your homework, reduce your notes to the bare minimum, and then go out there and be present with your audience.

After all, that’s what they came for.